Sleep Health

How to Keep Your Body from “Falling Back”

The daylight savings time change on Sunday, March 9th 2014 has forced most of us to “spring forward” and advance our clocks one hour. This effectively moves an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, giving us those long summer nights. But waking up Monday morning may not have been so easy because you lost an hour of precious sleep. Perhaps you had to drive to work in the dark with an extra jolt of java. How time changes actually affect you depends on your own personal health, sleep habits, and lifestyle. Moving your clock in either direction changes the principal time cue — light — for setting and resetting your 24-hour natural cycle, or circadian rhythm. In doing so, your internal clock becomes out of sync or mismatched with your current day-night cycle. How well you adapt to this depends on several factors. Though a bit simplistic, a rule of thumb is that it takes about one day to adjust for each hour of time change. There is significant individual variation, however.

If you are getting seven to eight hours of sound sleep and went to bed a little early the night before the time change, you may have waked up feeling refreshed. Yet, if you are sleep-deprived already,  probably in a bit of trouble, especially if you consume alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime. You may well experience poor performance, concentration, and memory as well as fatigue and daytime sleepiness.”

What can you do to reset your internal clock to adapt more quickly to the time changes?Your circadian rhythm is internally generated but is influenced by the environment, behavior, and medications. As I mentioned, light is the principal environmental cue. Light suppresses the secretion of the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. It is important to expose yourself to the light during the waking hours as much as possible, and conversely, do not expose yourself to bright light when it is dark outside. For example, if you get up at night to go to the bathroom, do not turn on the light. Prepare beforehand by installing a night light. Also, specifically timed light therapy may either advance or delay your sleep cycle, depending on when it is delivered.”

Sleep hygieneis a term used to describe those actions you can take to create sleep-friendly environments and enhance your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping soundly. Basic sleep hygiene includes reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising several hours before bedtime, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax yourself (taking a hot bath for example), and wearing ear plugs and eye masks. Going to bed and rising at the same time every day is important too. Though there is no evidence that certain diets will actually influence your circadian rhythm, carbohydrates tend to make falling asleep easier.